It’s Over

Folks, we’ve made it. After what I must admit has been a very challenging few months in all sorts of ways it’s unbelievably satisfying that my friends and I have made it through the second year of University. In the interest of honesty I’m writing this whilst nursing the mother of all hangovers having let off a serious amount of steam last night following my last exam.  I’d like to offer my heartfelt thanks to the friends and family members who’ve made that time bearable. To all of you who’ve put up with my complaining and helped keep my mind in the right place trust me when I say that it’s very deeply appreciated.

In the interest of getting a decent set of grades when results day arrives in a few weeks time I must admit that my fitness has fallen by the wayside. Sadly a diet based largely on convenience rather than nutritional value has lead to some weight gain. I’m not going to let myself feel guilty about that this time round, constantly striving for perfection in all aspects of life simply isn’t a good way to live in my opinion. Instead I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting faster, stronger and leaner over the next three months before it all starts up again.

In order to keep myself busy I’ve come up with a summer project that I’m hoping will give me some useful new skills. I can feel family and close friends rolling their eyes at this when I say that I’ve gone and bought Bike number six, or at least the beginnings of it. Let me explain. Having now ridden both road and mountain bikes I can testify that each is good fun for entirely different reasons. Road bikes are fast, nothing compares to the adrenaline rush of descending a mountain at 45 Mph. With MTB it’s the terrain that makes it interesting, developing the technical skills that needed to tackle rocks, roots and whatever else the local trails might have in store. It goes without saying that each also comes with disadvantages, spending hours on the road can be very monotonous and hauling that heavy MTB up steep climbs is never an enjoyable experience.

That begs the question, there must be a place for something in-between? A bike that can be ridden to the local trail centre at a reasonable pace, used to tackle some of the easier off-roading on offer and then ridden home again. For any non-Cyclists reading this I’m talking about gravel bikes, at first glance they look like road bikes with bigger tyres and in all honesty that’s not a bad description. You usually find them with disc brakes, clearance for large and possibly knobbly tyres and a long wheelbase to make the handling as stable as possible. Here’s something to illustrate it.

Left to right; Roadie, Gravel bike, MTB

It’s a common argument, one that I’d probably agree with, that the concept is actually nothing new. Gravel bikes do much the same job as early MTB’s did 25-30 years ago. That one got me thinking, instead of buying an expensive modern gravel frame why not pick up an old MTB frame and convert it? There are a number of advantages besides lower cost to doing it this way; I can build the bike to my exact specification and not have to worry about changing stock parts, I’ll learn a lot of new mechanical skills along the way and at the end of it I’ll have a completely unique machine.

Here is the starting point, a 1997 Merlin frame that I bought for £55 on Ebay. If you’re not a Cycling geek you can probably skip these next few paragraphs.

I chose it for a few reasons. It’s surprisingly light for a 20-year old frame being made of Aluminium rather than Steel. The hub spacing on the rear is more modern 135 mm rather than 130, that means it’ll accommodate an 11 speed freehub. The frame was originally designed for 26′ wheels but the clearance is wide enough that it can take 650b ones instead, making it faster on the road and easier to handle on the rougher stuff. Better still it’s designed for a 1 & 1/8 inch steerer, making it easy enough to source a modern fork that will work with the frame. Likewise it’ll accommodate an up to-date shimano hollowtech II bottom bracket, saving a great deal of headaches.

What’s the plan then? It was hard to tell what condition the paintwork was in from the photos alone, once it got here it was apparent that the frame was in need of a respray, as it stands british racing green is on the cards. Next on the agenda will be sorting out the bottom bracket, headset and fork. Quickly followed by finding a decent set of wheels and tyres. I suspect thereafter is where things will start to get a bit tricker. If there’s one thing I don’t miss from the bikes of my childhood its V-Brakes; squeaky, difficult to set up and dreadful in the wet. To that end I’m going with a disc-brake conversion, on the front it’s simply a matter of buying a fork with disc mounts. As for the rear it’s more complicated.  The only option is to go with an adapter, there are a few around but sourcing one of good quality which will fit that particular frame might well be a frustrating experience. In the interest of keeping costs low and simplicity of installation I’m going to go for cable operated discs over the hydraulic variety.

Next I’ll turn my attention to the drivetrain. I’m not entirely convinced that single chainring (1x) setups are going to take off for road bikes but for MTB and Gravel riding I’m a big fan. In short there’s less to go wrong, stick a big enough cassette on the back and you’ll have a good range of gears, the downside to this is cost. I won’t go into it in too much detail, essentially 1x rear mech’s for mountain bikes are relatively affordable but of course won’t work with road shifters, it won’t surprise you to hear that road-compatible models are very pricey. That means searching the internet for a second hand bargain.

Once that’s sorted it’ll be time for the finishing touches. Depending on what the budget allows I’d like to go for a carbon seatpost to increase comfort, gravel specific handlebars and a few personalised decals. Estimating the total cost of this build is very difficult but I’m hoping it’ll come to under £1,000. Hopefully at the end of it I’ll have a machine that will tick all the desired boxes; versatility, durability, and fun factor. If I’m lucky there will be enough money left over towards the end of the summer to take a trip to somewhere new and really put the bike through it’s paces. Roll on Summer.

Thanks for reading.